Our Story

A Great British success story

To really get to know the Cotton Traders story, you need to go back...way back! 16 years before we were established, to be precise, to a time before the company was even a sparkle in anyone’s eye.

The 1970s

It all started on a college rugby pitch in 1970 when Fran Cotton & Steve Smith first met in Loughborough.

“We didn’t get on so well at first. I kept thinking, who’s this cheeky so-and-so? But in the end, we hit it off, and we’ve been team-mates ever since.”

Not long after they met, Fran received his first call-up and cap in 1971 and was joined on the international stage by Steve the following year. Through the decade, the two friends participated in prestigious tours to South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, The USA and Canada.

The 1980s

1980 saw the end of Fran & Steve’s illustrious rugby careers as they looked to the future. They joined Bukta Sportswear, which was responsible for producing a lot of sports team kits around this era. It was here they honed and learnt the clothing trade, and in 1987, in a small office in Altrincham, Cotton Traders was born.

The 1987

Cotton Traders is born

The 1987

Cotton Traders is born

Choosing a name

"It took us maybe two minutes to come up with the name. Interestingly, you can’t normally trademark the word ‘Cotton’ because it’s a fabric - but you can if it’s someone’s name."

Off the page

The guys decided to risk everything with an advertisement in a Sunday paper - the advert was remembered as one of the most successful adverts in the history of 'off the page'.

The 1990s

The early 90s brought the Cotton Traders’ first replica licensing agreement with the Rugby Football Union, first with England in 1991, followed by other countries, including Wales in 1992 and South Africa in 1994.

1995: Nelson Mandela sports Cotton Traders

At the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa, Cotton Traders shirts were everywhere, with perhaps the most memorable moment of the tournament being when Nelson Mandela handed Francois Pienaar the World Cup trophy wearing a Cotton Traders classic of his very own.

1997: NEXT join the team

Catalogue big-leagues, NEXT, join Cotton Traders and help us springboard to the next level with our own catalogues and stock distribution

1998: Our first retail store

Cotton Traders opens its first retail store at Cheshire Oaks. We go on to open countless more nationwide.

The 2000s

2001: We open our first garden centre store

2002: Our website launches

The turn of the millennium saw the business go online. The clothing collections quickly start to grow and we start shipping further afield to ex-pats and new customers overseas.

2009: On the big screen

Clint Eastwood's 'Invictus' shows in cinemas, starring Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman & lots of Cotton Traders shirts!

The 2010s

In 2010, Cotton Traders partnered with Help for Heroes as their official charity partner. We added an optional donation to each purchase on our website, with all proceeds going directly to Help for Heroes. In 2012, we started designing an exclusive Help for Heroes collection.

2013: Fran & Steve pass the ball

After almost 30 years of leading their Cotton Traders team from success to success, Fran & Steve decide to take a step back and hand over the armband to the company directors.

2015: Hello, Ireland & Australia!

After delivering our products to countless countries, we widen our horizons by launching a dedicated website for our Irish and Australian customers.

In 2018, we launched the first version of our US website, too.

2017: Cotton Home is born

Our Cotton Home range comes to life under the Cotton Traders umbrella.

2018: We launch our Women’s & Men’s underwear range


raised for Help for Heroes

In 2018, Cotton Traders, in under ten years, raised a staggering £1,000,000 for Help for Heroes. We offer a huge thank you to all who participated in the various charity events and those who donated through online and in-store purchases.

2019: We acquire our distribution centre

2019: #5WaysToWear

In 2019, Cotton Traders launched its first primetime TV campaign regionally in Wales, the North West and South East England. The Feel Good Coat flies out and looks stunning in even more ways than we could have hoped with our #5WaysToWear campaign!

The 2020s

The 2020s saw us blazing through living rooms with our latest primetime TV advert. Things were evolving, but sadly, life quickly slowed when the pandemic hit. Lots changed, but that didn’t stop our continued mission to grow.

2020: New app-enings

We launched our app on tablet & mobile, an exciting new shopping channel allowing our customers to browse, shop and take advantage of exclusive offers at their fingertips.

2022: Brushing shoulders with the stars

In 2022, we announced our first male celebrity ambassador, Will Mellor – singer, TV actor and presenter. In 2023, the lovely Alex Jones from BBC’s The One Show joined our line-up along with Jasmine Harman from Channel 4’s A Place in the Sun.

In the market place

In 2022, we launched on the Debenhams marketplace, followed a year later on the Freemans marketplace. By 2024, we could see our brand on many websites, including Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Coast, Oasis and Wallis.

2023: Lights, camera action

We open our Shutter 9 photography studio.

2024: Continuing to grow

In 2024, we re-launched our standalone USA website, bringing the British quality we know and love across the pond to all our US customers, but our story doesn’t stop here! We have lots of exciting plans ready to unveil… watch this space!